Remembrance Day brings special veteran recognition

Ceremony at 11 a.m. at the cenotaph in Thunderbird Memorial Square off Veterans Way

Peter Welford was a mechanical engineer with the British Army during the Korean War

Peter Welford was a mechanical engineer with the British Army during the Korean War

A small corps of Abbotsford war veterans will be specially recognized this year for their effort in what is often called The Forgotten War.

Abbotsford’s Peter Welford was serving with the British Army during the Korean War. He had enlisted in 1946 at 14 years old via an apprenticeship for mechanical engineering.

“I was on a troop ship bound for Hong Kong when [the war] broke out,” Welford told the Abbotsford News while sitting at the local Legion branch.

He spent the initial year of the conflict in Hong Kong, but on the first exchange of British troops, his unit was sent to replace anti-aircraft gun crews stationed on the Imjin River. Welford was responsible for maintaining the battery of 40mm guns that were in place to protect the U.S.-built bridge – which was part of the main supply route from the south end of Korea to the 38th parallel – against possible Communist attack.

Turns out, he chuckled, the weather did the job for the enemy.

When the rains came, the river rose 20 feet in three days. All the debris ripping downstream destroyed the structure. It was rebuilt with a different design, which also failed.

Finally, a pontoon bridge was constructed that withstood the elements, he said.

Welford’s unit dug gun positions near the front line and the infantry would zero in on crawl trench points that would be bombarded to prevent enemy troop movements.

The 25-year Army veteran spent two years in Korea, which was rare because the British had a policy of soldiers only spending every other winter there because of the harsh conditions.

And these bitterly cold days prompted Welford to “learn the necessary skills in how to stay warm,” he recalled with a smile.

One way was to dig a four-foot deep hole on the walking paths that bridge rice paddy fields. Cover the depression with whatever could serve as a roof – such as sheet metal, or a 50-gallon barrel cut apart and straightened, and cover it with soil – and then use a drip-fed gasoline-fuelled system to generate a fire.

Looking back, Welford is still at odds with the war.

“Was it worth it?” he asked, referring to the current political situation in Korea. “And the armistice is just a ceasefire. I don’t think [the war] made a lot of difference.”

Peter Welford and some of his fellow soldiers taken during the Korean War.

Canadian War Efforts

  • First World War

In 1914, as Canada was climbing out from a recession, the call went out from the Minister of Militia and Defence for Canadians to step forward to serve their country.

While Canadian soldiers’ bravery and sacrifice catapulted the country to a new standing worldwide, the nation suffered great losses. Around  625,000 served, and approximately 60,000 were killed in action or died in active service, with another 173,000 reported wounded.

  • Second World War

The Second World War officially started Sept. 1, 1939 after the Germans invaded Poland. Britain and France declared war two days later, while Canada did so Sept. 10. This marked Canada’s first independent declaration of war.

Throughout the conflict, 1.1 million Canadians served in all three branches of service (army, navy, air force) with more than 45,000 losing their lives, and 54,000 returning home injured.

On D-Day (June 6, 1944), Canadians made the third and final beach heads during the landings at Normandy.

  • The Korean War

(1950-1953) was the first time the newly minted United Nations interceded in a conflict. This war pitted the communist North Korean government against the democratic South. Tensions escalated following the Second World War until the breaking point on June 25, 1950 when the military forces of North Korea crossed the 38th parallel into South Korea. Almost 30,000 Canadian soldiers were sent to the Korean War, and 7,000 stayed behind to supervise the ceasefire until 1955. From this, 1,558 were casualties, including 516 deaths.

  • War in Afghanistan

Canada’s role in the Afghanistan began in late 2001. Canada went on to take on a larger role in 2006 after Canadian troops were redeployed to the Kandahar province, with 2,500 Canadian personnel in the country that year.

Canadian troops ended their combat role in Afghanistan in 2011, but some Canadian soldiers will remain to train and mentor the Afghan National Army until March of 2014.

Since February 2002, 158 Canadian soldiers have died in the war in Afghanistan or in support of the war. More than 2,000 soldiers were injured between 2002 and 2011.

  • Peacekeeping

Canadians have regularly taken part in United Nations’ peacekeeping missions since 1956. Canada suffered the second-highest number of casualties over the years, with 122, to the end of 2006.

Since then, Canada has aimed for participation in UN military operations through NATO, thereby reducing the number of soldiers deployed.

Remembrance Day Ceremony

Abbotsford’s Remembrance Day ceremonies take place at the cenotaph in Thunderbird Memorial Square off Veterans Way Nov. 11.

The parade starts at 10:40 a.m. and all citizens are encouraged to attend and arrive by 10:30 a.m.

Following the official proceedings, the Royal Canadian Legion on West Railway is open to the public.